Along time ago in a galaxy not so far away...
Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a great sci-fi adventure story called A Princess of Mars that would become one of the most influential science fiction fantasy stories of the 20th century inspiring George Lucas to make the epic Star Wars franchise nearly 60 years after it. It has taken a full century for Burroughs' imaginative epic fantasy to come to life on the big screen but John Carter has arrived in theaters DOA thanks to a series of costly marketing blunders by Disney of equally epic proportions.
Despite its numerous failures to attract an audience, director Andrew Stanton has delivered a first class epic fantasy film that brings the pages of Burroughs' highly imaginative world of Barsoom to life in living, breathing color with vibrant special effects and computer animation that could easily have become the Mouse's Star Wars franchise with the proper marketing muscle behind it. Unfortunately we will probably never see the further adventures of John Carter in The Gods of Mars or Warlords of Mars or any of the other chronicles in Burroughs' classic pulp series because the audience for whom the film was targeted has no idea just who John Carter is and is far more excited to see this summer's Hunger Games, also based on a popular series of teenage literary novels, than a hundred year-old character from a book they've never even heard of.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy is the over-simplified title changed by Stanton himself. Who is John Carter? Why should anyone care about him?
Well, he's Taylor Kitsch who played Gambit from X-Men Origins: Wolverine and his co-star Lynn Collins from the same film is ideally cast as the beautiful Princess Dejah Thoris of Helium. John Carter is a confederate captain from Virginia who travels to Arizona to find gold, only to find himself astrally transported to Mars after being fatally shot by Apache Indians. There are plenty of metaphors here between the natives of both worlds that evoke Dances With Wolves and Avatar as John Carter becomes the propheseid hero and savior of Barsoom which the native Tharks call their red planet. With an inspired cast of supporting actors with Willem Dafoe as the voice of Tars Tarkas, a nine foot tall, four armed green Martian, Dafoe sounds exactly as I would have always imagined the voice of Tars Tarkas to sound like and brings the character to life with his impassioned performance. Other inspired casting choices include terrific supporting performances by Ciaran Hinds and James Purefoy who are reunited again from working together in HBO's excellent series Rome and Tardos Mors and Kantos Kan respectively. Dominic West from HBO's The Wire also rounds out the inspired casting as the villanous Sab Than seeking the hand of the Princess of Helium to unite a planetary civil war and become its ruler.
John Carter is filled with action, adventure, special effects, animation, heroes, villains, monsters and a princess, it has all the fundamental ingredients of a classic Disney film and is a faithful adaptation of Burroughs' novel, and Disney and Stanton have delivered a spectacular film that has fallen flat on its face as a $250 million box office disaster that is being critically compared to 1995's sci-fi flop Waterworld. It must make over $400 million just to break even, another unrealistic expectation reminiscent of 2010's Tron Legacy by the foolish suits at Disney who clearly have no clue how to run the studio nor do they know anything about what they have on their hands or how to mass market their product and for that heads should roll and Disney's marketing department all deserve the grim fate that awaits them.
As for the fate of John Carter, who knows, but all indications so far seem to imply that we may never return to the red planet on the big screen again. Fortunately the written pages of Burroughs will last forever for those of us that still remember them...
Long live John Carter of Mars!